Art: “The Scapegoat” by William Holman Hunt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_Scapegoat.jpg

Written by Matt Benton, Pastor, Bethel United Methodist Church in Woodbridge, VA

a goat
“The Scapegoat” by William Holman Hunt
Art: “The Scapegoat” by William Holman Hunt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the series finale of the critically lauded but little-watched HBO series The Leftovers, one of the main characters, Nora Durst, finds herself at a wedding in a town square in Australia.  She is welcomed into the reception where beads are placed around her neck.  Towards the end of the reception, it becomes clear what the beads are for.  A goat is brought into the center of the reception while the groom describes the role of the scapegoat. The scapegoat was not a goat used in an atoning sacrifice.  Rather the community would place all their sins upon the scapegoat and then cast the goat out into the wilderness, driving all the sins of the people away with it. 

The groom explains that those beads are the sins of the people.  That they are to put their beads, their sins, onto the goat and that the goat would then be cast off into the bush.  And that is precisely what happens.  And yes, even if you’ve watched the show from beginning to end this moment seems really, really weird. 

Nora leaves the wedding on her bike and is on her way home when all of a sudden her bike seizes up on her and she crashes.  Upon investigation, she sees that a bead necklace caught in the wheel and chain has caused her to crash.  And that’s when she hears some bleating.  She finds the scapegoat caught in a barbed wire fence.  The beads, the sins of the people, are what are keeping the goat caught, threatening his life. 

Nora knows what she must do.  She has to remove the beads, the sins, from the goat’s neck if he is to survive.  And upon removing the beads from the goat’s neck and freeing the goat, she then places the beads on her own neck. 

When I looked at this image, William Holman Hunt’s painting “The Scapegoat,” my mind immediately went to this scene.  I saw the goat, running free, because the sins had been removed from the scapegoat.  Another had taken them on and, in turn, saved the scapegoat. 

We no longer have any need for a scapegoat.  Not because Nora comes to every scapegoat, unburdening them of the community’s sins, but because in Jesus the sins of the world are not just taken upon the Christ, but are atoned, are redeemed.  The sins of the world have been placed upon the Son of God and through His death and resurrection are forgiven.   

And yet how often are we so quick to put our sins back upon ourselves?  To think we need to justify ourselves and prove ourselves worthy of God.  How often do we want to put our sins onto others or feel others putting their sins onto us?  How often do we think that these sins are still ours to deal with? 

Hear the good news: William Holman Hunt’s scapegoat has no blemish.  It has no fault.  It is unburdened.  Because Jesus Christ has taken the sins of the world, the whole world, upon Himself.  They are no longer ours to deal with through atonement or scapegoating.  This Lent, look upon the unburdened scapegoat and know that in Christ, you are forgiven.  In Christ, all our sins are forgiven.  In Christ, all is forgiven, we are redeemed, and the scapegoat is unburdened.   Thanks be to God! 

Find previous “Picturing God” entries here:

April 5: The Flight Into Egypt

April 5: The Flight Into Egypt

Art: “The Flight Into Egypt” by Ki-chang Kim  Written by Hung-Su Lim, Associate Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond, VA “The Flight Into Egypt” by Ki-chang Kim “When the magi…

read more
April 4: The Taking of Christ

April 4: The Taking of Christ

Art: “The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons  Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Taking_of_Christ-Caravaggio_(c.1602).jpg …

read more